Irish Senator Defends New Blasphemy Law

Fianna Fail Senator Jim Walsh has become the first Irish Government politician to publicly defend the new blasphemy law since it became operational on 1 January (a spokesperson for the Minister for Justice did tell the Sunday Times that I was “some crackpot sitting in an attic somewhere”, but that did not really constitute a reasoned defence of the law). So, without further ado, here are the words of wisdom that Senator Jim Walsh conveyed to the Sunday Sequence Show on BBC Radio Ulster on 10 January:

“It’s probably somewhat different in Ireland, in that we have a Constitutional requirement, which means that, you know, blasphemy, is an offence under our laws, and as a consequence, it has to have penalties which will be commensurate with that, and respect our Constitutional position, but, having said that, I think, over the period that it’s been there, as far as I can understand, there has been very few, perhaps one, case ever taken, which I think may have been unsuccessful, so it’s not a major issue, I think, for the vast majority of, sane, sensible people… In Ireland the laws that we have, based on the Constitutional position, would, in fact, you know, cover all religions, and indeed, we’ve seen where, you know, remarks passed have caused serious offence to people in other religions, and that has its own reactions, and its own ramifications, and I think in any society, I know there’s, you know, freedom of expression is very important, I mean it’s fundamental to democracy, and to be able to express your viewpoint is a fundamental, and in fact, can I just say, and this would be different than in Britain, in fact, it is a Constitutional requirement here to have freedom of speech, but I think most people, again, recognise that freedom of speech is not an absolute, it has to be done in a measured, responsible way, and, indeed, there, it can be, you can infringe, if you like, that entitlement by Incitement to Hatred Acts, which we have here, which has been contravened, and indeed there are other countries, you know, in Europe, like Germany, Austria and that, where, for example, you know, denial of the Holocaust is an offence punishable by imprisonment.”

All of these arguments have been addressed by Atheist Ireland, both in articles on this website and in submissions made to the Justice Minister, the Justice Committee and the Council of State while this Act was making its way through Parliament.

It was not Constitutionally necessary to pass this particular law. Indeed, it may have been unconstitutional to pass this particular law. It may not have been Constitutionally necessary to pass any blasphemy law. And the Constitution could have been amended in conjunction with the Lisbon II Referendum that was being held around the same time as the law was being passed.

The new Irish law does not protect the fundamental beliefs of all religions. It arbitrarily excludes what it describes as “cults” whose primary aim is to make profit or who employ oppressive psychological techniques. And it does not protect the fundamental beliefs of atheist citizens, merely those of citizens whose fundamental beliefs are religious.

Nobody is suggesting that the right to freedom of expression is absolute, merely that blasphemy is not a justifiable reason to qualify it. Incitement to Hatred laws criminalise harm to individuals, while blasphemy laws criminalise harm to ideas. The existence of Holocaust Denial laws in specific countries do not justify a blasphemy law in another country.

Senator Walsh’s arguments merely strengthen the case for the immediate repeal of this anachronistic law, and for the development of a modern secular Irish Constitution.


  1. Avatar
    Brian McGee January 12, 2010

    I think Mr Walsh, you know, has missed the, you know, missed the point entirely.

  2. Avatar
    steve white January 12, 2010

    be interestingto know the last time the incitement to hatred act has been used here

  3. Avatar
    Frank Eastwood January 12, 2010

    I think he makes these statements without having really thought about what he is saying. This lack of clear thinking and critical analysis underscores his own poor education. This fellows utterances point to being taught in a religious school and uttering ideas as though asleep.

  4. Avatar
    mark January 12, 2010

    how can a fairy tale be part of any goverment issue,they might as well add haensel and gretel.

    “It arbitrarily excludes what it describes as “cults” whose primary aim is to make profit or who employ oppressive psychological techniques.”
    where is the diffrence to any religion?
    it´s all about the money and power over people.
    in fact,”psychological techniques” are a core part of any religion.
    this law is just one thing,plain bullshit.

  5. Avatar
    Pete January 12, 2010

    All this is about is politicians buying their place in heaven at taxpayers expense, not unlike Australian PM Kevin Rudd granting $45m to the Catholic church to hold an international seminar in Oz, whilst at the same time denying secularists any money for their international gathering in Melbourne

    How long will taxpayers have to go on subsidising the stairway to heaven for weak minded politicians.

  6. Avatar
    Chas January 12, 2010

    Where can I commit this victimless crime, and to the fullest effect?

    Gods can really suck sometime, isn’t it?

  7. Avatar
    Peer Spektive January 12, 2010

    God help the Irish! I wanted to go on holiday to Irland this year – now I think it over. Will I, a self-confessed satanist get burned? That’s no good prospect…

  8. Avatar
    Ah Jaysus! January 12, 2010

    Was having a chat with my barber while getting a chop there the other day…

    I said that if someone was to be fined/charged with blasphemy in court, wouldn’t the court have to then prove –first– that god exists?
    I mean, “ya know” (hehe), wouldn’t you have to put god on trial in order to prove that said protagonist was infringing on something that in-fact exists. I know that the belief “inside” some people does in-fact exist, but when it comes to fines, jail-time or criminal records i believe the time for being considerate towards other peoples beliefs, stops.

    But the barber made a very good point; “don’t you have to put your hand on the bible and swear to god at the beginning of a trial?”.

    “YOU SLY BASTARDS!” i thought. For this reason alone, could “putting god on trial” so to speak, become negated because you yourself swore on the bible?

    [BTW, keep it up! I heard you on the radio and i have to say, all this is AN ABSOLUTE JOKE!]

  9. Avatar
    joe September 21, 2013

    now there is a reason to get rid of the seanad! What a moran that fina fail senator is!


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